For the past 16 months, construction worker Mr K. Vazhumuni has been allowed to move mainly within two areas - his workplace and dormitory. Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the movements of migrant workers like him have been heavily monitored and restricted. Thus, his sense of relief was palpable during a carnivalesque event organised for migrant workers on 29 August 2021.
He explained: “Coming to events like this makes me very happy. Being stuck in the hostel for so many days with so many people, I don’t feel so good.”
As part of Singapore’s 56th National Day celebrations, some 250 migrant workers from over five dormitories were able to let their hair down and engage in various activities organised by several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and volunteer migrant welfare groups. The stakeholders involved included JTC Corporation, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), Homeforall Migrants, Welcome In My Backyard (WIMBY), Tzu Chi Humanistic Youth Centre (HYC), Sama Sama, 24asia and A Good Space.
Kranji Recreation Centre (RC) served as the event venue and it is one of eight RCs built across the island specifically for the migrant workers. During normal times, workers are able to access food and beverages outlets, minimarts, telecommunications shops, barbers and remittance services at the RC. It also functions as a gathering point for them to meet friends for activities in the communal facilities.
And on event day, Kranji RC came to life once again. With various activities such as games booths, yoga and canvas painting, it contributed to an overall buzzing atmosphere. Migrant workers could be seen excitedly engaging in the activities lined up for them, completely taking their minds off their usual mundane work routines. Sounds of happy laughter and exuberant chatter could also be heard all around. But beyond the fun and games, the event had a deeper underlying purpose.
“The significance of this event is to send a message of solidarity. We want to tell the migrant workers that we, the public, remember them, we care for them and will engage them,” shared Mr Abhishek Bajaj, who is the co-founder of Homeforall Migrants. “It also celebrates Singapore 56th National Day and recognises the unique contribution our workers make to not just our infrastructure but also our social fabric.”
Ms Lim Choon Choon, Centre Manager of HYC, concurred: “This is one of the largest scale offline events in recent times and I think not only does it brings joy to our migrant brothers, it is also helpful in raising awareness among the locals.
“As you can see, the volunteers today are majority locals and if not for this type of events, there won’t be many opportunities to sit down and have a chat with these migrant workers.”
Involvement of HYC
With the overall theme for the event focused on mental wellness, the activities organised were thus geared towards that direction. There were mindfulness sessions, therapeutic painting and handicraft activities, just to name a few. For HYC, the organisation was in charge of two booths, namely the yoga (in partnership with Bhumi Lifestyle) and upcycling activity booths. At the upcycling activity booth, migrant workers were able to have a hands-on experience of making mask holders using used drink packages, and this was especially popular.
According to Ms Lim, she initially only catered for 50 mask holders to be made, but due to the enthusiastic response, all the materials were used up by midday. Thankfully, she had prepared a backup plan of crafting handicraft flowers, which was equally well-received by the workers.
“I feel that this upcycling activity is very good as there are people teaching me how to make flowers,” shared Bangladeshi worker Mr Sarowar, who has been in Singapore for 11 years. “I used to go to Marina to celebrate National Day but it is not possible this year. So I’m very happy that I can come here today to celebrate.”
HYC’s booths were mainly helmed by Tzu Ching youth volunteers and many of them were relishing the rare opportunity to interact with the migrant workers on a more personal level. One of them was 16-year-old Indian national Anushri Bhattacharya, and she had the added advantage of being able to communicate with the workers in their native language.
“I’m a Bengali and as many of the migrant workers are from Bangladesh, they found it easier to communicate with me as they feel that they have someone to talk to when visiting our booths,” explained the Global Indian International School student. “Many migrant workers are going through a lot of depression, especially during this pandemic period where they are unable to return home. Thus, this event will provide them with some hope and positivity during this difficult time.”
Teamwork at the Forefront
Besides the positive impact left on the migrant workers, the event also showcased the remarkable teamwork of the different organisations in coming together to ensure its successful execution. Given that many of the event organisers are volunteers who have other full-time commitments such as work and studies, their commitment to the cause was indeed commendable.
Furthermore, organising an event which involved a sizeable crowd was always going to be tough during the current pandemic. This resulted in several unforeseen delays along the way due to the fluid and uncertain situation. However, with the indomitable spirit and perseverance of the volunteers, the event was eventually pulled off successfully.
“It is very heartening to see the different NGOs and organisations come together, filling each other’s gaps and utilising everyone’s strengths. This teamwork spirit is one of the most beautiful parts of this event.” Ms Lim shared.
Given the steadily rising vaccination rates in Singapore, some form of normalcy has slowly crept back into the lives of most Singaporeans. With MOM in the midst of finalising plans to loosen restrictions for the migrant workers, the hope is that this can similarly be replicated for this long-neglected community.
Mr Bajaj added: “Many of the migrant workers are wondering when they will be let out of their dormitories to go back into the community. They used to have many activities such as poetry writing and picnics but these are now distant memories.
“Our hope is that this event will encourage more public groups to come forward to organise similar events for the migrant workers and engage them.”